T20 franchises issue likely to return - PCA chief
The success of the Big Bash League may prove "difficult to ignore" for the English domestic game, the new head of the PCA has warned.
David Leatherdale, who began his new role last week, feels it is inevitable that talk of city cricket will return in the county game and suggested that the vast number of spectators attracted to T20 matches in Australia are likely to be persuasive.
The ECB board recently announced that the domestic T20 competition in England and Wales will be played on very similar lines as now until the end of the 2019 season. But talk of city cricket has never really gone away with most suspecting that, with a new broadcast deal to start in 2020, the current schedule represents an interim arrangement.
While Leatherdale, formerly the CEO of Worcestershire, suggested any PCA stance could be declared only after its members had been canvassed, he did concede that, with the new TV deal looming, "if there's ever going to be a change, that will be the time."
"I think it's difficult to ignore 81,000 people in Melbourne watching the Stars play the Renegades, or 50,000 in Adelaide watching a T20 when there are 14,000 there to watch a Test," Leatherdale said.
"Will the franchise issue raise its head again? I'm sure it will. The question is when. All the guys in the PCA will be consulted when it is. I'm very opened minded."
He also conceded that, such was the volatility within the game at present, that it was possible that the changes recently announced for the 2017 season could be amended before they even begin. Those who wanted promotion and relegation in domestic T20 have not given up.
"There have been about 25 structural reviews," he said. "Will we get to the end of this season with 2017 still looking as it is at the moment? Your guess is as good as mine."
As a long-term employee of Worcestershire - Leatherdale spent the best part of 30 years at the club and admits he is finding it tough not to say "we" when talking about them - it might be presumed that he will have a natural affinity for the smaller counties. It might also be presumed that, as a county player who never gained England recognition, he has empathy for the non-internationals who make up the vast majority of the PCA's members if not the headlines about them.
Certainly his career-path was not the smoothest. Leatherdale started working in the commercial office at Worcestershire while he was still a player - "I did four days a week at each job," he recalls, "yes, that is an eight-day week" - and also spent some winters working outdoors in a metal yard in Wednesbury. It's even less glamorous than it sounds.
While he insists neither presumption is necessarily accurate - "I have a different perspective now" - he does make regular mention of the 407 current players who currently make-up the PCA membership and the thousands of former players who they seek to help. Whatever the headlines, the key work of the PCA will continue to be done in classrooms: providing advice and training for players to help them avoid the pitfalls their predecessors suffered.
He leaves with a job very well done at Worcestershire. The turnover of the club has increased by over £1m in recent years - from £3.6m to £4.7m - with a redeveloped ground leading to a marked increase in non-cricket revenue and a marked decrease in the effects of floods. While the cricket budget was cut by around £400,000 a year from its peak, the renewed focus on developing local players has unearthed some encouraging talent. The likes of Tom Fell, Ben Cox, Joe Leach and, in particular, Joe Clarke, bode well for the future.
There is also the prospect of further development of the ground within the next couple of years. The council are looking to raise the level of the road in front of the ground by several feet to lift it above the reach of all but exceptional floods and, as a consequence, are minded to help the cricket club finance a new stand that will effectively link the Graeme Hick Pavilion with the recently built hotel and office complex. The prospect of retractable floodlights is also back on the agenda: by the end of the season, New Road will be the only county base without lights.
That perspective is evident when he warns that talk of England players wanting a city-based competition is "a small take" - a small sample size, in other words - and reiterates that any policy will be decided by what is best for all his membership, not just the top 2%.
"Any review has to be done in balance," he says. "It has to take into account the history of cricket in England, which isn't the same as other countries. There are 407 professional cricketers, so it's important to accommodate everybody."
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo